Diabetes is a metabolic condition that affects how the body either produces or uses insulin. This makes it difficult to maintain blood sugar, which is crucial for the health of those with diabetes.
When managing blood sugar, it’s important to control the amount of carbohydrates eaten in one sitting, since carbs directly affect blood sugar.
It’s also important to choose nutrient-dense types of carbohydrates over refined and processed carbs with added sugar. Carb intake should be determined on an individual basis with the help of your healthcare provider.
This means that what you eat matters a great deal. Eating foods that are high in fiber and nutrients but low in unhealthy fat and sugar can help maintain a healthy blood sugar level, as well as improve your overall health.
Oatmeal offers a host of health benefits and can be a great go-to food for those with diabetes, as long as the portion is controlled. One cup of cooked oatmeal contains approximately 30 grams of carbs, which can fit into a healthy meal plan for people with diabetes.
Oatmeal has long been a common breakfast food. Oatmeal is made of oat groats, which are oat kernels with the husks removed.
It’s typically made of steel cut (or chopped), rolled, or “instant” oat goats. The more processed the oats are, as in the case of instant oats, the faster the oats are absorbed and the higher the blood sugar can potentially increase.
Oatmeal is cooked with liquid mixed in and is served warm, often with add-ins like nuts, sweeteners, or fruit. It can be made ahead and reheated in the morning for a quick and easy breakfast.
Because oatmeal has a low glycemic index, it can help maintain glucose levels. Compared to other carbohydrate-rich grains, oatmeal can be beneficial for people with diabetes, who especially need to manage their blood sugar levels.
Oatmeal in its pure form may reduce the amount of insulin a person needs. Oatmeal can also promote heart health, which is important because people with diabetes are prone to heart disease.
Adding oatmeal to your diet to help manage diabetes has both pros and cons. The pros of adding oatmeal to your diabetes diet include:
- It can help regulate blood sugar, thanks to the moderate to high fiber content and low glycemic index.
- It’s heart-healthy due to its soluble fiber content and the fact it can lower cholesterol.
- It may reduce the need for insulin injections when eaten in place of other carbohydrate-rich foods.
- If cooked ahead, it can be a quick and easy meal.
- It’s moderately high in fiber, making you feel full longer and helping with weight management.
- It’s a good source of long-term energy.
- It can help regulate digestion.
For most people with diabetes, consuming oatmeal does not have a lot of cons. Eating oatmeal can become a concern if you choose to eat certain versions of oatmeal that are instant, laden with sugar and artificial flavoring and/or consume too much at one time.
Oatmeal can have negative effects for those who also have gastroparesis, which is delayed gastric emptying, which can be severe. For those who have diabetes and gastroparesis, the fiber in oatmeal can be harmful.
In general, if you have diabetes but don’t have gastroparesis, the biggest cons of adding oatmeal to your diet include:
- Bloating due to the high fiber content. This can be reduced by drinking water as you eat.
- Flatulence due to the fiber content. Drinking water while eating can also help to reduce flatulence.
- Adding other ingredients to your instant oatmeal or buying instant packets that contain extra sugar, sweetener, or added flavorings can be harmful to a diabetes diet.
Oatmeal can be a great addition to your diet to help manage diabetes. However, it must be prepared correctly.
When adding oatmeal to your diabetes diet, there are several things to keep in mind to maintain the health benefits oatmeal offers.
- Add cinnamon, nuts, or berries.
- Choose Irish or steel cut oats.
- Use low-fat milk or water.
There are several things you can add to your oatmeal preparation list to increase and maintain the positive health benefits of oatmeal.
When eating oatmeal, here’s what you should do:
- Eat it with a protein or healthy fat such as eggs, nuts, or Greek yogurt. Adding 1-2 tablespoons of chopped pecans, walnuts, or almonds can add protein and healthy fat, which can further help stabilize your blood sugar.
- Choose Irish or steel cut oats. Irish and steel cut oats have a higher amount of soluble fiber, which helps regulate blood sugar and are minimally processed to slow digestion.
- Use cinnamon. Cinnamon is full of antioxidants, has anti-inflammatory properties, and may help reduce the risk of heart disease. It may also improve sensitivity to insulin and may help lower blood sugar levels.
- Add berries. Berries also have antioxidants and good nutrients and can act as a natural sweetener.
- Use low-fat milk, unsweetened plant-based milk or water. Using low-fat or plant-based milk can increase nutrients without adding too much fat to the meal. Water is preferable to cream or higher fat milk for those trying to reduce fat content. However, keep in mind that the amount of milk used needs to be accounted for toward total carb intake for your meal. Eight ounces of regular milk contains approximately 12 grams of carbs.
- Don’t use prepackaged or instant oatmeal.
- Don’t add too much dried fruit or sweetener.
- Don’t use cream.
Just as there are several great choices you can make when preparing oatmeal, there are several choices you can make that are not good when you’re living with diabetes.
When eating oatmeal, here’s what you shouldn’t do:
- Don’t use prepackaged or instant oatmeal with added sweeteners. Instant and flavored oatmeal contain added sugar and salt. Neither is good for a diabetes diet. They also have less soluble fiber. Choose a healthy variety of oatmeal.
- Don’t add too much dried fruit. Just a tablespoon of dried fruit can have a high amount of carbohydrates. Be mindful of your portions.
- Don’t add too much sweetener. People commonly add sugar, honey, brown sugar, or syrup to oatmeal. This reduces the health benefits oatmeal offers you.
- Limit or avoid using cream. Use either water, plant-based milk, or low-fat milk to make oatmeal.
In addition to the blood sugar and heart-health benefits oatmeal offers, it can help with:
- lowering cholesterol
- weight management
- skin protection
- reducing the chances of colon cancer
Unprocessed and unsweetened oatmeal is slow to digest, meaning that you’ll feel full longer. This can help with weight loss and weight management goals. It can also help regulate the skin’s pH, which can reduce inflammation and itching.
When prepared correctly, oatmeal has many advantages that can be beneficial to anyone, but especially to those with diabetes, if eaten in the right portions.
You can start the day with a meal that regulates blood sugar and provides a long-term source of energy. It will also help improve your heart health. By choosing the right add-ins, oatmeal can be a wonderful breakfast when you’re living with diabetes.
Always monitor your blood sugar to see how oatmeal affects you. Everyone with diabetes is different. Always talk with your doctor before making any major dietary alterations. Registered dietitians can also help with your dietary needs.